Trip Report: South Luangwa, Zambia, October 2016

Hi Alex,

Sorry for not getting back to you sooner; as you suspected we’ve been busy at work!
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

The Zambia trip you arranged for us was better than we ever could have expected it to be. I’ve completely run out of superlatives when trying to describe it to everyone who has asked! We were both amazed and extremely grateful for how brilliantly you interpreted what we wanted despite the vagueness of our initial phone call to you! The choices of camps was perfect too, enabling us to get a varied experience of different areas of the park. Thank you so much.
Other than your exemplary planning and choices there were a few particular highlights that made the whole trip even more wonderful which we would like to bring to your attention. Foremost amongst these was Nkonzi Camp in general. In the itinerary this seemed to be the (relatively) “unknown” component, having opened so recently and a relatively small online presence. It was, however, one of the best places we’ve ever been. We were particularly lucky I suppose in that we were the only guests for our time there (goodness knows why!), but I’m sure it would have been just as marvellous if it were full. Gavin Opie, the owner/guide, was astonishingly good, both as a host and guide, imparting Attenborough-esque information about the wildlife and wider ecosystem whilst ensuring a brilliantly relaxing yet unintrusive level of hospitality. Nkonzi truly made us feel like guests rather than customers (if that makes sense). Another aspect of Gavin’s camp which was very important to us was his ethics of guiding and construction of his camp. In contrast to some of the other lodges he rigidly enforced the policy of not driving off-road, instead parking and, if safe, walking off-road to get a better view.
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

Flatdogs was a brilliant introduction to safari, providing a huge choice of food and all mod cons whilst maintaining a sense of authenticity. The views from the tents are particularly impressive. Just in the first few hours we spent at our tent we saw more wildlife than we had expected to see for the entire trip!
Finishing at Kakuli was the perfect way to round off the trip in luxury. Again, the views from the tent were incredible – over the maintained waterhole on to the confluence of the Luwi and Luangwa rivers. As we had almost become used to, elephants were regular (and close!) visitors, meaning even our time in camp between drives was spent with camera and binoculars in hand!
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

Other than this we obviously saw some amazing sights. I took over 2,500 photos and am still sorting through many of them! Once I’ve selected the best and uploaded them somewhere I’ll send you a link! I’ve copied a couple of them below for now (although compressed and unprocessed!). Some of our highlights though were: sitting in the middle of a lion hunt at night, tracking and finding a leopard on foot, watching a mating pair of lions, walking closely around a large herd of buffalo at sunset, seeing a leopard about 15 metres away in broad daylight and seeing two fresh leopard kills (both impala) in trees.
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

Again, thank you so much for arranging such a wonderful holiday. If there are any ways in which we could endorse you somehow online just let us know where is best and we’ll get onto it! We’ll of course be back in touch soon to arrange our next safari and future ones after that.
Best regards,
Chris & Charlotte

Kenya Family Safari: A trip Report

Dawn and Leo took their honeymoon in Kenya, and returned this August with their two sons. This is their report:

Hi Alex,

So sorry that I haven’t been in touch sooner. We really got caught up in our trip, and I stayed away from email and any connection with the outside world. It was lovely.

We had an absolutely wonderful trip! Every single thing went off without a hitch, and I could not be more grateful to you for making it happen. Every transfer was smooth, and every pick up and drop off was as scheduled. After such a long journey, it was so reassuring to have someone waiting for us with our name on a sign.

We loved our choice of destinations and are glad that we spent so much time in the Mara. As you predicted, Amboseli was very dusty, but it did not ruin our time there. We saw tons of elephants as I had hoped, and Kilimanjaro was cooperative for almost an entire day.

 

Sundowners overlooking Mt Kilimanjaro from the Amboseli Serena

The Amboseli Serena was perfectly situated for our activities, and the rooms and food were great. Food is a very big deal for my teenaged boys, and all of our meals everywhere were very plentiful and terrific.

Food at Karen Blixen Camp- you’ll never go hungry on a safari!

The Mara Serena was just as we remembered, and the views from that lodge are unmatched by any place I’ve ever stayed in the world. Despite its size, the lodge remained quiet and serene, except for the dining room which was just fine for a family. The game viewing in the (Ed: Mara) Reserve was tremendous, and the scenery was spectacular! Being there for the migration was so much better than when we were there last (January). We saw so much more wildlife and all those wildebeest….simply amazing! We were lucky to see two river crossings (one with a croc trying unsuccessfully to eat), and we will never forget the feeling of excitement and anticipation….there are truly no words to adequately describe it.

The view Dawn describes from the Mara Serena

The Mara North Conservancy did not disappoint either, and we were very impressed by how close we were able to get to the wildlife compared to the Reserve. After leaving the somewhat shiny and semi-luxurious surroundings at the Serena, I was very concerned that the Karen Blixen Camp would not measure up. I am happy to say I was mistaken. Karen Blixen was extremely comfortable, had fantastic food and is perfectly situated for game viewing on the river. The staff was exceptional, and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable. We were very well attended to, and the staff made sure to check on us frequently. We felt so much more important than we usually do on vacation! We loved the eco-aspect of the Camp and how well the employees are treated. The employees raved about the camp owner and how well they are treated compared to other camps. After spending some time in Africa, one feels like an overindulged Westerner, so it was great see a camp that tries to spread the wealth and treat people properly.

Karen Blixen Camp Staff

One of my biggest concerns about this trip was worrying that it was not long enough. However, ten days in Kenya seemed like a month. We were/are exhausted and would not have wanted to do another thing more. I loved spending the bulk of time in the Mara and am so glad that we didn’t have to trek from place to place every two days. As you know, travel there is so hard and tiring, and we enjoyed just soaking in the surroundings for days on end.

Game viewing from Karen Blixen Camp

All in all, it was a spectacular trip, and I don’t think we will ever be able to top it! I can go on and on for days about it but I will spare you for now! Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have or if you would like me to post a review somewhere. I cannot thank you enough for all of your help, advice, tips and recommendations. You were spot on and provided honest and extremely thorough guidance. Nothing was left to chance, and I felt so much more knowledgable than I did going into other trips. Thank you for helping us to have this most special trip.

I am very late this morning and must run out the door, but will be happy to tell you more later! I’ll also send a photo when I muddle  through the 1200 I took!

Thank you for EVERYTHING, Alex!

Very best and warm regards,
Dawn

 

It’s not very often that emails from our clients make us cry, but this one succeeded.

Dear Alex
We have just arrived home from our fantastic trip to Namibia and I felt I had to get in touch before our feet touch the ground and it is all still fresh in my mind.
(c) Vicki Walton

(c) Vicki Walton

From beginning to end the trip was amazing – I’m sorry if I am going to use too many superlatives here! The organization was spot on with no glitches at all.  We were met at all the necessary points and transferred to the camps with ease and efficiency and the accommodation was superb, so comfortable and the staff everywhere very welcoming with their cold towels and drinks! We have been wined and dined in style!
Namibia itself really is truly wonderful – such space and the silence was golden!  We loved the flights in the light aircraft and felt we saw so much from the air, far more than if we had been driving. One of the most memorable flights was over the red sand dunes, and up the Skeleton Coast with flamingos flying beneath us! The lunch on the beach was also unforgettable!

We had fun sliding down the sand dunes to make them roar – (we’d never heard of that happening before) and the visit to the Himba village was an eye opener and also quite humbling to see how other people live and survive.

We were also fortunate enough to see the desert near Serra Cafema in flower following recent rain and were told that is a once every 7 or 8 year event. The elephants and giraffe were enjoying the feast!
The sundowners will always be remembered – popping over the border into Angola for a G&T with the crocs and another occasion we were nearly joined by an inquisitive elephant!
There are so many more things to tell you about and when I have edited the photos I’ll send some to you. We have passed you name on to another couple whose experiences were not quite so good as ours
Thank you so much for organising  a really fantastic trip in Extraordinary Africa.
Kindest regards
Vicki & Peter

A report from a Mauritian Honeymoon

Thank you!

Thank you!

From the outset, we were looking for a company with that personal touch to help us to organise our honeymoon. We wanted someone we could trust and we certainly found it with Alex and Extraordinary Africa. The booking process was extremely straightforward, after discussing the official things like country, budget and dates Alex helped to develop a better understanding of our requirements and preferences before providing us with suggestions. The documentation that she sent through to us was more than you’d get from a normal company, it came with personal tips and advice about the best rooms, or best seats on the plane something I’ve not had before and a wonderful touch that reassured us that Alex really did know the place personally. Once we had decided on the location and hotel Alex took care of the rest with her in country contacts which made the trip itself very straightforward.

P1100093 (1280x637)

A week or two before the leave date we had our seats confirmed and a handy travel size pack was delivered to our door, we found this extremely useful as it had all our holiday details in one place as well as country details and emergency contacts. From the airport everything had been organised to ensure a smooth trip for us, the airline knew it was our honeymoon (I assume Alex had told them) and offered us extra legroom seats as we checked in. When we landed in Mauritius our name was on the board and our driver waiting. It’s worth noting that I have tried to organise in country transfers in a similar fashion on a number of trips abroad myself and something has always gone wrong, not with Alex’s in country partners though. We had a  smooth, swift transport to the hotel and when we arrived at 20 Degrees Sud we couldn’t wait to walk to the paradise beyond the huge wooden gate. Our bags taken and we were seen inside, offered a complimentary welcome cocktail and their guest relations manager met us to show us around and to our room. What a place, Alex was right, beautiful, right on the beach but with the added extra of being a small boutique hotel with the personal service that comes with being so.

20 Degrees Sud

Alex had advised us on the ‘charm’ room, and it was lovely, the bed decorated with petals, a welcome basket of fresh fruit and two gifts on the bed, a lovely touch to a beautiful room. With its own patio area, a deep bath, shower room as well as an additional outdoor shower it was right next to the pool, which ensured we always got the best sun beds.

The hotel staff were very attentive without being intrusive, it was lovely to be at a hotel that just said ‘yes’ to sorting any issue we had. Our own travel adapter broke on the first day, within minutes a new one was delivered to our room. We wanted to hire a car for a couple of days sightseeing, it was delivered the next day with no fuss or issues. The food every night was excellent, we were on half board, but never found we needed lunch as breakfast was more than enough and besides  at 4pm they had tea and cakes that changed daily. A couple of nights they had live music during dinner and on the Sunday offered a change to the usual waitered service with a ‘Traditional Mauritian Dinner’, although initially concerned as we aren’t that keen on shellfish it ended up being our best meal. Fresh breads, vegetable and chicken currys, dahl-type dips, stir fry, and plenty of it, my Husband had three helpings!

20 Degrees Sud

20 Degrees Sud

So when it came to leave the hotel and island it was with a heavy heart, but again the organisation of Extraordinary Africa helped smooth the process, we got a message two days before we were due to leave to confirm our pick up time. They arrived prompt (although we almost wished they would have forgotten so we would have to have stayed!) and we were delivered to the terminal building and our bags taken inside for us.

From start to finish Alex was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. We would certainly recommend the personal service provided by Extraordinary Africa, and indeed already have. From initial discussion through to booking and even while away we were reassured to know that Alex was there if we needed her. I didn’t think that a bespoke style holiday would be something we could afford, but with Extraordinary Africa we certainly could without the need to skimp on detail or quality. Thank you Alex!

Kirstie & Ed, Wales, travelled on honeymoon to Mauritius May 2016

“Seeing animals isn’t the point of mokoro, it’s bringing your heart closer to the water.”

Listening to our briefing in the baking sun of a late November afternoon safari in the Okavango Delta, it was hard to get excited about anything at all. We’d spent an exciting, but long and very hot morning on a game drive. After lazy lunch, adding another hour to my afternoon siesta seemed far more appealing than abandoning my bed at Little Vumbura for a wobbly dugout canoe. We were warned not to move around too much- “I have seen these capsize often,” said our poler, and not to trail our hands in the water for too long. Not because of hungry crocs apparently- it just made steering the mokoro more difficult.

Mokoro trip

Once we climbed aboard our mokoros and lowered ourselves gently into the seats, peace descended. I picked the back seat so I could snooze discreetly behind my sunglasses and bush hat if the heat overwhelmed me (and while sleeping would’ve been an utterly disgraceful waste of precious hours in the bush, it really was very hot). However, though the mokoro ride was the embodiment of tranquillity- this is Botswana’s equivalent to punting- and despite my tiredness, sleeping suddenly seemed a lot like missing out.

Travelling up front on hippo duty, our guide made sure the waterways were clear of unexpected four-legged surprises. Behind, our mokoro poler engaged us with tales of growing up in Botswana, and issued us with a challenge to spot the tiny Angolan reed frogs clinging to the top of swaying stems. We learnt the difference between night-time and day-time water lillies, how the jelly of the water shield plant could be used as sunscreen, and glided up on a pair of ducks so quietly that they shot away from us with startled squawks.

Reed Frog

Our mokoro ride ended as all good days in Africa should: watching the sun set with a cold G&T on a sand island as a family of elephants padded silently past. Afterwards we floated serenely home, listening to the calling frogs and watching the poler in front silhouetted against the light of the setting sun.

(Please excuse any fuzziness- all pictures the author’s own)

How to bargain well in Stone Town (even if you’re British and it’s all rather awkward)

One of the great delights of visiting Stone Town (and if you are on holiday in Zanzibar, this is the No. 1 on our do-not-miss list) is in buying treasures to bring home. There’s the fun of discovering some hidden gem you’d never find anywhere else, the post-holiday boast-factor (“Oh this? I picked it up in a little shop I know in Zanzibar…”) and above all, the fun of the bargain.

First of all- know where to bargain. Stone Town hotel boutiques or swanky air-conditioned shops where all of the stock has price-tags are unlikely to be as flexible as cash-only market stalls and owner-run shops.

Stone town

Perfect bargaining territory – visiting Stone Town from Matemwe Retreat

Serena Inn Zanzibar

Exploring Stone Town from the Serena

Do your research… If you spot something you like and want to buy it, ask around before you approach the store owner and get embroiled in negotiations. Who to ask? Well- ask the staff in your hotel (though don’t follow them to their brother’s shop) or our guide if you’re on a tour of the town.  It’s also possible to ask multiple store owners for a rough guideline price before you buy so you can compare, but you must make it clear you’re not looking to buy right away, or be  entangled in hours of unwanted bargaining and the poor stallholder will get his hopes up.

Remember, you really, really like the person you’re bargaining with, even if you’ve only known him for 5 minutes. Charm- and a touch of Swahili- always gets you the best price.  Try “Ni ghali sana” (“it is very expensive”) to help your cause.

Bargaining is supposed to be fun– be prepared for the odd touch of melodrama (“Oh, my friend, my children won’t eat if I sell it at that price”/”But my wife will divorce me if I spend $200 on a Zanzibar chest”). Making a good deal is fun. Be prepared to walk away if you really feel you’re being ripped off, but don’t come back unless you’re seriously planning to make a deal- it’s not fair on the man or woman who’s devoting half an hour of their day to you and not their other customers.

If you reach a price that you’re happy with, and the stallholder will sell to you at- go for it! There’s no perfect price- just the perfect one for two people in that moment. You might pay more or less than others, but you’ll always have a memory of striking a fun deal with a proper Zanzibari merchant.

Did I tell you about the time I slept in 007’s bed?

When you’re flying to the Quirimbas for a long weekend, you expect something pretty special. A decent beach, world-class deep sea-fishing, and an ocean glittering with phosphorescence were vaguely on my wishlist, but when the manager of Vamizi Island asked “Did you know you’re sleeping in James Bond’s bed?” my trip was propelled into a whole different league.

Vamizi Island Dhow

Vamizi Island Dhow

Her statement threw me into disarray- my best Bond girl bikini was lost, forever looping the baggage carousels of Nairobi airport, and my experience in Aston Martin driving was limited. As I wondered if I could finish learning to fly a plane before dinner so I’d have something to discuss with the world’s most famous secret agent, I was kidnapped and whisked off to the far end of Vamizi Island for a remote beach picnic. After a lengthy lunch-and-champagne-fuelled snooze, we were hailed aboard Vamizi’s fishing boat for an afternoon of deep sea fishing. And while I still hadn’t met Bond, the sun and the sea and the speedboat were doing a pretty good job of setting a suitably glamorous scene.

A few hours later I waded ashore for cocktails, triumphantly bearing the 50lb tuna I’d reeled in that afternoon. Moments later, it appeared alongside my sundowner as sashimi. If this didn’t impress 007, nothing would. But where was the great man?

“Oh,” said the manager “Daniel Craig stayed here a few days ago, but he’s gone now. You’re sleeping in his room- you didn’t think…?”

Alex stayed at Vamizi Island Lodge and was very impressed, in spite of her deep and abiding disappointment in failing to meet 007. Vamizi has 6 exclusive private villas available to hire which Extraordinary Africa can book for you, please contact us for more information.

Christian, a remarkable lion

Africa is full of big animals, big characters and big landscapes. It’s where you’ll find the world’s largest land mammal, legendary explorers and the Great Rift Valley. Yet even amongst such well known, if not always illustrious company, some stories stand out. One is that of Christian the lion.

Christian’s was no mere common or garden lion. His story begins as a young cub in Harrods. In 1969, he was spotted by John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke who bought Christian and swept him home to Chelsea, where he lived in the basement beneath their furniture shop. He took walks in a local garden, and charmed visitors to John and Ace’s furniture shop.

Born FreeHowever, dear Christian, though a remarkable lion, was becoming rather large, and began to startle visitors to the furniture store. Fortunately, two such visitors included actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna who’d recently starred in Born Free- the true story of Elsa, the orphaned lioness raised by George and Joy Adamson.

And so Christian moved from the King’s Road to the wilds of Northern Kenya (via a stint in the Traver’s country garden). He was released from George Adamson’s camp at Kora, far from the dangers posed by hunters, tourists, or local villagers. However, Christian still had wild lions to contend with who resented the male interloper smoothing in on their territory. He formed an alliance with “Boy” (a semi-tame male who’d starred in Born Free), and eventually became the head of his own pride. He left George’s camp for longer and longer periods of time, until he was seen for the last time, headed in the direction of Meru National Park.

.And while it seems elephants may never forget, lions too must have a long memory. For when Ace and John returned to Kora, there was Christian, running up for what looks remarkably like a bear hug. Or should that be a lion hug?

The Turkana Bus is Back!

In the 1980’s taking the “toughest bus ride in the world” was one East Africa’s legendary journeys. This week long trip from Nairobi to the Lake Turkana passed through lawless districts braved by only the most intrepid of travellers. United in search of adventure international diplomats and backpackers sat side by side in Bedford trucks, bouncing through Kenya’s northern frontier.

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

By day, passengers would alight to trade with roadside hawkers and dig out the bus, and once they made camp for the night, they’d be visited by Samburu warriors who’d come to investigate. Finally, after three long dusty days on the road, guests would finally catch a glimpse of the implausibly turquoise waters of Jade Sea- Lake Turkana.  The lake shore thronged with Luo fishermen, families and herders bringing animals to water. Temperatures soared above 40 degrees and travellers slept on the roof of the truck to admire the fireflies and stars. In an era when luxury tented camps were coming in to their own, the Turkana bus was a true adventure through Kenya’s wild frontier.

Stopping at an El Molo Village (credit: Martin Dunn)

Stopping at an El Molo Village (credit: Martin Dunn)

Emma Hedges, daughter of Dick, who originally ran the bus, has revived this epic journey for a small number of set departures during March, April and May.  Guests travel in a little more comfort (the Bedford truck’s been replaced by Land Cruisers), but the same sense of exploration remains. With the wilderness of Lake Turkana increasingly under threat from proposed pipelines, railways, and oil rigs, now is the time to visit this World Heritage site.

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

The Turkana Bus has a small number of 6 night/7 day set departures, leaving Nairobi on the 8th and 22nd March, the 12th and 26th April, and the 10th and 27th May.  Extraordinary Africa can offer a 9 night trip, including international flights from London, a night in Nairobi and the 6 night Turkana Bus trip from £2,625 per person.

View the full Turkana Bus Itinerary.

All photos courtesy of Martin Dunn (wildlifephotographyafrica.com)

50% off at Chongwe River Lodge until 31st May

Safari doesn’t come cheap, so we’re the first to leap at a good value safari. Normally this might mean a free night once you’ve paid for three or four, or 10% for the bride. Chongwe River Camp has knocked these out of the water with a special offer that we can’t ever remember seeing before- for every night you pay for, you’ll get another one free.

It’s valid till the 31st of May, so if you can, we’d recommend trying to book towards the end of that period for frankly lovely weather, great game viewing, and one of the prettiest spots in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

Elephant at Chongwe River Camp

Breakfast at Chongwe River Camp!

Chongwe’s the perfect sort of spot for slow safari (just sit around camp- we wouldn’t be surprised if the elephants come to you). There are long, languorous boat safaris, lazy afternoon naps, and game drives or a spot of tiger fishing if you need a quick adrenaline buzz.

To add to that (do we need more?) if you want even better value, this offer’s also valid at sister lodge Kasaka. If you want to head further north and extend your safari to the South Luangwa National Park, you can combine either Chongwe River Camp or Kasaka with Kapani Lodge  and receive 30% off at Kapani too. And while you do this, we’ll be dying quietly of jealousy in our chilly office in the UK.

Hippos on a walking safari near Kasaka

Hippos on a walk near Kasaka

We’ve done a quick sketch on costs, and we think you could do six, wonderful, envy-inducing nights at Chongwe from £2,275 per person, including international flights from London, saving £1,300 per person.

Or combine Kapani for four nights with four nights at Kasaka for £2,860, saving £1,050 per person.

International and domestic flights are included, your food’s included and all of your game viewing’s included too, so all you really have to do is buy some sunscreen and a safari hat!